Thursday, August 30, 2012

Environmental Victory: Return of the Eagles to the Great Lakes

photo by Steve Damstra

Years ago there were practically no eagles around the Great Lakes due to DDT. Their eggs would not hatch. After reading Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, Norm and I worked to ban DDT in our community and then the state. Above, see the ...results! It took a long time for DDT to purge out of the Great Lakes system, but now we rejoice every time we see an eagle fly. This environmental success story was the inspiration for me to write The Dynamic Great Lakes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Piping Plover

My water color of a rare bird. Piping plovers like to make thier nests on the shore and the eggs are vulnerable to predators and even to people who may step on the eggs while strolling along the shores. I saw a piping plover in Grand Haven Michigan along the sandy shore, but not recently.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Michigan's Singing Sands

Michigan’s Singing Sands

Build sand castles or lie on the beach, boogie board, kite board or sun bathe. Sand beaches in other parts of the world are o.k., but sand beaches in Michigan are of an especially fine quality. Why? someone asks.

This sand is composed of quartz granules, dark colored magnetite and other fine grains of rock. People love to walk in the so called singing sands…it feels good underfoot. When a toe or shoe is dragged across the sand, there is a high pitched sound or singing. This is due to the high quartz content of the sand.

At any time of year, you may find people enjoying the cool wooded dunes at Hoffmaster State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan in Norton Shores near Muskegon. Some of the best sand dunes in the world are found here and along the coasts of the Great Lakes. At Hoffmaster State Park, there are beaches and places to camp, trails through the wooded dunes, and stairways to climb over the dunes to breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Naturalists take visitors and school groups through the park and point out owls, song birds and plants.

But to really learn about the dunes, you must visit Gillette Nature Center at the center of the park where there are displays explaining how the dunes were formed by actions of the glaciers and the west wind. The displays show dynamic dune succession: that is how dune plants and animals change over time. It was in dunes such as these that Henry Chandler Cowles studied botany and then wrote “ The Ecological Relation of the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan” in 1899. The discipline of ecology was born in dunes like this.

There are hands on displays, kids really go for this, on the lower level and a collection of creatures…mammals, reptiles and fish found in and near the dunes.

In the fall, the changing colors of leaves are worth a walk in the dunes and in winter, people like to cross country ski on an old logging trail that hugs the side of a dune. In spring, wild flowers bloom under the trees. Bird migrations pass through here.

Many beautiful and unique dunes were leveled in the past and their intricate ecosystems destroyed by mining the sand for industry and building subdivisions. We still have some dunes left to enjoy on the Great Lakes. They are well worth preserving. After all, they were created over thousands of years. Once gone, dunes with their intricate ecosystems, can never be resurrected by humans.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Research on Lake Huron

Great Lakes Echo

Lake Huron to be home of long-term research program

Aug 2 2012 By Sara Matthews

Lake Huron has the most shoreline and is the second largest Great Lake. Yet it gets perhaps the least scientific attention.

That will soon change. Lake Huron is the home of a new long-term research program started this summer by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

From the agency’s base at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich., scientists are studying water quality, invasive and native species, nutrient levels and physical properties of the lake.

It’s long overdue. Lake Michigan has been the site of a long-term research program since the 1980s.

“Lake Huron is the least studied [Great] Lake,” said Henry Vanderploeg, the program’s lead researcher. “We’ve done a lot of work in Saginaw Bay and want to expand our monitoring program on Lake Huron.

Significant changes in the Lake Huron ecosystem are a main focus of the research. A decline of nutrients in the open water is leading to a food shortage for prey fish like salmon. At the same time, fish like walleye and smallmouth bass in the nearshore are increasing.

So are blooms of cladophora, an algae that emits a sewer-like odor as it rots on beaches.

Nutrients, the food web and water quality create the ecosystem of Lake Huron, Vanderploeg said, “but no one really knows how the Great Lakes systems work together.”

Studying the lake may give clues to how to effectively manage it for both water quality and fish production, he said.

Similar studies already done in Lake Michigan will be used to compare the lakes to better understand how they work.

Huron and Michigan are considered the same lake hydrologically, Vanderploeg said. But EPA monitoring data shows changes in similar plankton communities are occurring faster in Lake Huron.

“The reasons for that are not understood yet,” he said.

The effort will research how:
■winds, waves, temperature and current affect ecosystems
■sediment influences algae blooms
■bottom-dwelling organisms affect algae growth and the availability of phosphorous
■the food web is distributed in both near- and open- shore environments
■bottom-dwelling organisms like quagga and zebra mussels are spread through the lake.

The agency ‘s participation in the 2012 Lake Huron Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative is the starting point for the long-term program.

The initiative is a joint effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office and Environment Canada to study one Great Lake per year. The studies

The U.S. EPA’s Lake Guardian is one of the ships traversing Lake Huron this summer gathering data for the initiative. Photo: U.S. EPA

are one element of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement made by the U.S. and Canada in 1972 to create an international effort to protect the Great Lakes.

Participating agencies collaboratively examined ecological problems in Lake Huron to create research questions, said Glen Warren, an aquatic biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency. Finding the answers will aid management decisions.

“Lake Huron has undergone some drastic changes in the last ten years or so,” Warren said. “The work we are doing will lead to better management of the lake.”

Other agencies studying the lake include the U.S. Geological Survey, wildlife and environmental agencies from Michigan and Ontario and universities from both countries.

“There are 11 Canadian and U.S. organizations and 24 science monitoring projects going on this summer,” said John Marsdon, a manager of Great Lakes issues and reporting for Environment Canada.

“Environment Canada covers all the lakes every year, so does the EPA, but the cooperative field season 2012 for Lake Huron harnesses everyone in a coordinated fashion,” he said.

Researchers say it’s a good strategy.

“When we cooperate it’s amazing how much we can get done,” said Paul Horvatin, chief of environmental monitoring and reporting branch for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “It all adds up to more than what we can do separately.

“It will lead to a much better managed lake.”

In 2010 the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative studied Lake Michigan; in 2011 it focused on Lake Superior. Meetings are already underway to coordinate ships and areas of study for Lake Ontario in 2013. Lake Erie will be next.